575 Years
And Cheers
For Carl

by David Friend

Their eyes have seen it all, from Pacific battlefields to Hollywood sound stages. This spring, when seven of photojournalism's grand masters gathered in Larchmont, New York, the men (combined ages: 575 years, give or take), talked about terrorism and traded war stories (three covered World War II, two braved Korea, two were in Vietnam, one has shot a dozen conflicts, including the Gulf War). But mainly they paid homage: celebrating the 95th birthday of Carl Mydans (seated, in the wheelchair), one of the first five shooters to join the staff of the newborn Life, in 1936.

Other luminaries present that day included, from left: sports-photography pioneer George Silk, high-society chronicler Slim Aarons, Pulitzer Prize-winner Eddie Adams, author-filmmaker-lensman Gordon Parks (out with a new novel about artist J.M.W. Turner), John Dominis (publishing Sinatra: An Intimate Portrait of a Very Good Year in November) and celebrated photojournalist Harry Benson (the versatile mainstay of Life and Vanity Fair whose latest, self-titled book has entered its second printing).

Carl is mostly homebound now, having befriended a pet parrot named Charlie, and spending part of each morning poring over The New York Times in search of the ever-present byline of his son, Seth, one of the paper's long-time Asia correspondents. (Carl is still recovering from the loss of his wife, Shelley, 86, last March. An author and pioneering journalist in her own right, Shelley was one of a coterie of female WWII correspondents; the couple, Life's first married reporter-photographer team, were captured by the Japanese in 1941, spending two years imprisoned at Santo Tomas in the Philippines.)

But Carl was bright-eyed on May 20--a birthdate he shared with his wife of 63 years. That scorching afternoon, he reveled in the attention of friends, ate cake ravenously, and posed for countless pictures from the prying lens of close friend and former Time colleague Bill Foley (as well as photographer Claire Yaffa, also on hand).

Indefatigable as a younger man, Carl Mydans, though fragile, is still on the move. This month, he and his daughter, Misty, a California-based administrative law judge, plan on making an annual pilgrimage to the vaunted Eddie Adams (Photographic) Workshop, in Liberty, New York.

Insists Adams, with a smile: "Carl taught all of us."

David Friend is Vanity Fair's Editor of Creative Development. He served as an executive producer of the CBS documentary "9/11"--shot by Gedeon and Jules Naudet, nominated for 5 Emmys--which will air this month in 122 countries.

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